Room to Grow

A Chicago garden evolves with the children it was designed for.

By Shirley Remes


A bird’s-eye view reveals the small garden’s many unique spaces.

Prior says Isobel is a picky eater and would never eat vegetables until they started growing them in the raised beds. “I love the strawberries,” says Isobel, “and am excited about the blueberries, but the peas have been the highlight. There was one week when there were so many I would just sit and eat them.”

While studying Native Americans in school, Isobel and her neighbor, Simran Jain, who is 2 years younger, decided to build a tepee under the trees. “We wanted to make it only of natural stuff,” says Isobel, “so we searched the alley for dead trees and branches, dragged them all back, and put it together with garden twine. We’re looking forward to how it will look in winter with the snow.”

In fact, the change of seasons is part of the appeal of the garden, and the girls don’t abandon it when the temperature dips down, says Prior. “There are snowball fights because there are places to hide, and Isobel and her friends build snow forts. They will play in the garden all day, and I just crack the door to hand out mugs of hot chocolate.”

Transitioning to Teens

Madeleine, 15, enjoys sitting in the garden, reading and relaxing. She gathers her friends together to sit on the newly installed deck that she and Isobel helped design. It has plenty of room for her friends to hang out with her, and Prior likes that it has become a comfortable place for the teens to congregate.

The pond is also a favorite of Madeleine’s. “I like the sound of the water; it gives you the sense that you are not really in the city.” She soon noticed that the pond made a nice backdrop for taking photos, and began organizing fashion shoots there with her friends.

Isobel has started to experiment with photography, as well. “She really ran with it,” says Prior. “She has documented the garden from the first of the year. She was out in the early spring taking pictures of the first crocus and the first sprouts of grass.” Her photography interest has now morphed into making a short movie based on Alice in Wonderland. A circle for seating made of architectural salvage chunks in one corner of the yard serves as the rabbit hole that Alice jumps down to get to Wonderland in the story.